BUSINESS

Mississippi River Flooding: As Waters Rise in the Delta, A Treasured Local Market Goes Under

YAZOO CITY, Miss. - At the far end of this sleepy town with Magnolia-lined streets, Hines Grocery has served up heaping plates of smoked pork ribs and homemade sausages for more than a quarter century.

It's the domain of John Hines, 72, and his wife, Eva, who live within eyesight of the wood-paneled meat market. Just down the two-lane highway is their "hog parlor," where the pigs are raised and fed to supply fresh meat for customers.

As of Saturday, the store and the parlor were beneath several feet of river water. The hogs were shipped away to higher ground, and after nearly 30 years of business, the family may be closing up shop for good.

"It's just bad news all around," said John Hines, sitting on the back of his pickup truck, eyeing the lake across from his house that two days ago was a dry cotton field. "Everything we worked for over the years is going to get wet."

Saturday evening was the first night he and his wife were forced to stay elsewhere. The utility company cut the power to their house. And water from the swollen Yazoo River was lapping at their back porch, bringing logs and debris from miles away into the yard.

"We woke up, saw the water and said, 'It's time to go,'" Eva Hines said.

For now, they're staying with their son-in-law's family. But they're looking for a place to rent on higher ground, as it could be more than a month before the floodwaters begin to recede.

The crest of the Mississippi River is supposed to reach Vicksburg, Miss., on Thursday. That's where the Yazoo River normally feeds in. But the historically high Mississippi has forced smaller tributaries like the Yazoo to essentially flow backwards, spilling over into farmland and low-lying neighborhoods.

The fertile, sun-splashed farmlands of Yazoo County have quickly begun to resemble a sea, crisscrossed with an occasional road. Driving around this section of the Delta is a frustrating endeavor, as roads that were open half an hour ago can close on a whim.

The Hines home is on a road marked "closed," as is the grocery store. On Sunday, the couple was enjoying the final few hours before the house and all roads leading to it were submerged.

"We're going to pack up a few more things in the truck and then get to high ground," John Hines said. "We don't know what's next. One day at a time."

Unlike a tornado or a hurricane, which can destroy everything in a split-second, this kind of disaster plays out in slow motion. Excruciatingly slow motion.

A few friends drove by on Sunday to check on the couple.

"Just watching the water rise," John Hines said. "It's almost like watching paint dry."


The submerged Hines Grocery

Hines has been a cotton and soybean farmer most of his life. Up until four years ago he still tended to the fields across the road from his home and near where he kept the hogs.

But when he first bought his home on the outskirts of Yazoo City in the mid-1980s, he and his wife noticed the abandoned hog stables down the highway nearby.

"We decided we might kill a few of them hogs and see if we could sell 'em," he said.

That grew into the grocery business that has become a favorite among locals, specializing in a range of meats, from smoked pork to deer sausage. All the work is done on site: the meat is processed and smoked in the back of the store.

Locals rave about the lunch specials: pork chops on Tuesday; smoked ribs on Friday.

"That's about the best place to eat anywhere around here," said farmer Zack Killebrew, who works the fields just behind the store and reflected on lunches of ham and pulled pork.

Now the store is essentially gutted. The stainless steel cutting machines, tables and dishes are all sitting in an eighteen-wheeler in the Hines' church parking lot, up in the hills of Yazoo City.

"Twenty-five years of it, all in that trailer," Eva Hines reflected. "We've just got to refocus now."

As local spectators drove the near-flooded highways, snapping pictures and video of land giving way to water, John Hines took a seat on the gate of his pick-up truck, while his wife reclined in a lawn chair.

"We'll just sit here and watch the water rise," he said.